As designers, we try to immerse ourselves in visual culture including modern techniques and contemporary styles, and when we indulge ourselves, we dabble in trends. Graphic and web design trends have a lifespan of a few years. After catching on, and the inevitable overuse, a trend will either fade away or components of it will stick around and gain a reputation as being standard or timeless.
On a very rare trip outside of the country, I recently found myself in Paris for a week. The nearest I’d previously gotten to la Tour d’Eiffel or an authentic baguette was Disneyland, and my insight into French graphic design extended no further than the colourful textbooks and magazines from mt GCSE days. Now, as an adult living amongst the on-trend art students and hipster designers of Liverpool, I expected to be overwhelmed by this iconic cultural epicentre of Europe, including its latest visual output and its wealth of galleries. Much has progressed in logo, poster, website and magazine design since the 90s: the internet is widespread and digital design has matured, so Paris must be a pioneering example of this progression, right? Wrong. At least not in the way I was expecting.
Posters lining the walls of the metro, event tickets, street signs, shop fronts – all were recognisable as the 1990s France I assumed never existed, or had been surpassed. What happened? Has the city let itself become dated? Where was the 2013 international style I’m used to, but better?
This is when I realised that the design community I considered myself part of consisted of online contributions from likeminded people, often white Western males, all looking for the next breakthrough in cool. Am I merely part of the flock?
In a wider context Paris hasn’t let itself go – it knows what it is, what it wants to be and how it wants to look. France can be flippantly passed off as arrogant and stubborn, but it has steadily cultivated its own visual identity as a country. We remember Swiss and Dutch graphic design from the first half of the 20th century, but will our own country’s output go down in history if we’re only a remixed aggregation of the internet?
A wider set of influences and an occasional pinch of salt will be added to the toolkit…